Slalom Worlds Wraps Up, Hochshorners, Lefevre/Gargaud Make History

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The wind may have delayed by two days the start of the 2011 International Canoe Federation Slalom World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia, but it couldn’t dampen the fan enthusiasm or quell the excitement as officials crammed a five-day schedule into three action-packed days.

Excitement was ratcheted up by the fact these Worlds also served as an important Olympic qualification event. And according to U.S. coach Silvan Poberaj, it went as well as could be expected, with men’s kayaker Scott Parsons taking home the highest U.S. finish at 15th place. “A touch on an early gate pushed him out of the Finals and potentially a much higher finish,” says Poberaj.

“We secured two Olympic spots (one in K-1W, and one in K-1M), out of four possible,” he adds. “We did not expect to qualify in C-2 and knew that it will be very hard in C-1. In C-1 we were very close, just one country out.”

And all is not lost yet for the U.S. in C-2 and C-1. The C-2 and C-1, says Poberaj, will have a chance to qualify the spot at the Pan Am Championships in Brazil (Foz de Iguasu) in March 2012. “The strongest teams that we will need to beat will be the Canadians, Argentinians and Brazilians,” says Poberaj.

Highlights from the event for the rest of the world included two especially historic achievements. Under the glare of the media spotlight and the high hopes of their hometown fans, Slovakia’s beloved C2 Men’s Team, Peter and Pavol Hochschorner, won an unprecedented fifth World title, their fourth in a row.

The momentous achievement inspired a crack in the brothers’ usually stoic demeanor as they smiled broadly and raised their hands over their heads as they crossed the finish line.

Also sharing in this weekend’s spotlight were Frenchmen Fabien Lefevre and Denis Gargaud Chanut, who swept up a fistful of shiny new medals as the two men combined to take home six medals in three disciplines.

During the first final, Lefevre and Gargaud teamed to win Silver in Men’s C2. Then the duo followed it up with more hardware. Lefevre won bronze in K1 Men, with Gargaud winning Gold in C1 Men.

Climbing once again into their two-man boat at the end of the day, the duo won the C2 Men’s Team event, then Lefevre earned Silver in the K1 Team Event. Gargaud finished just out of the medals in his C2 Team event, settling for fourth.

Another headline maker from this week’s event was the fresh faces that took home medals in the C1 Men’s event. For the first time since 1993 neither Tony Estanguet or Michal Martikan took to the podium on the World stage. Estanguet was stopped at the semi and Martikan stunned adoring Slovakian fans by finishing in seventh.

Instead, a new trio served notice that they think it could be time for a change of guard. Joining the aforementioned Gargaud, was Germany’s Nico Bettge taking home Silver while rising Slovakian star Matej Benus earned bronze. Gargaud said it’s too early to discount the threat Estanguet and Martikan could still pose at next year’s Olympics giving obvious respect to the the two legends.

The headliner in the women’s contests was Corinna Kuhnle who not only defended her title but did so in convincing style, powering across the finish line a full 3.28 seconds ahead of a perfect run by Slovakia’s Jana Dukatova. Kuhnle’s time of 110.05, included a 2-second penalty, causing more than a few slalom insiders to remark that Kuhnle is in a league of her own.

Highlights from other divisions
K1 Men – Peter Kauzer (SLO) reclaimed the title Daniele Molmenti took from him last year setting up the possibility for the continuation of the rivalry in London next year. Kauzer was joined in the medals ceremony by Mateusz Polaczyk (POL), earning his first-ever individual medal at a World Championships. Bronze was earned by Lefevre, as mentioned above.

C1 Women – The second-ever Gold medal fittingly was awarded to the only finalist to have a clean run on the way to the finish line. Katerina Hoskova, who won a K1 Under-23 World title on this course a few years ago, was all smiles to take Gold home again, this time in a different class.

As proof of the evolution of the sport, all ten Women’s finalists earned a shot at a medal by being free of 50-point penalties; not the case last year. Unfortunately 50s reared their ugly head again in the final, dousing the medal hopes of three pioneering athletes.

Results

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